May Day Marchers Spread Their Wings: 'Immigration Reform Now!'
Where worker justice meets immigrant justice
More than 1,000 people marched under the brilliant San Francisco sun on May Day. Their signs, such as “Work in America/Live in America/Dream in America. Immigration reform now,” their songs, chants and speeches wove together the twin themes of the day: worker justice and immigrant justice.
Alphonso Pines of the hotel and restaurant workers union Unite HERE put it this way, speaking to the crowd before the march: “We’re marching for our families; we’re marching to honor the sweat and the contributions of each and every working person. We’re marching to honor the beauty of each and every family – queer or straight, immigrant or born here. We’re marching because together we can make history.
Tessa Levine was getting ready to march with Mujeres Unidas. Like many in the crowd, she wore butterfly wings. The Monarch butterfly flies to Mexico then back to the U.S. every year, she said, explaining, “It’s really a symbol that migration is beautiful, that migration is natural.”“Together we can win immigration reform that includes all workers and all families. Together we can stop the pain of deportation.”
In all, there were some 85 marches calling for worker and immigrant rights around the U.S., including a march of 700 in Oakland, California, 2,000 in Los Angeles and several thousand in New York.
Seattle-based journalist Mark Taylor Canfield told IPS that unions brought large numbers of people out to a peaceful march of several thousand in Seattle. A break-off group broke windows and damaged property. Police reacted with “large amounts of pepper spray and flash-bang grenades,” he said. There were 13 arrests.
In San Francisco, Tessa Levine was getting ready to march with Mujeres Unidas. Like many in the crowd, she wore butterfly wings. The Monarch butterfly flies to Mexico then back to the U.S. every year, she said, explaining, “It’s really a symbol that migration is beautiful, that migration is natural.”
Still, migration is regulated by law. And at this point, no one knows exactly what the new immigration law will look like – or if one will actually make it through both houses of Congress and on to the president’s desk.
A number of demonstrators told IPS they had serious questions about the bill known as the Bipartisan Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform scheduled for consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 9.
A primary concern with the bill is the 13 years it would take most immigrants in the U.S. without documents to become citizens. The positive aspect is that, during the waiting period, they would be able to work legally. However, during that time, they would be excluded from social services, including the right to purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
“We want a fast and just path to citizenship,” said Kitzia Esteva, of the advocacy organization Causa Justa.Just Cause, noting that immigrants’ taxes pay for these services.
Emily Lee, with the Chinese Progressive Association, expressed similar concerns. Noting that one million out of the 11 million undocumented persons living in the U.S. are Asian-Pacific Islanders, she asked, “What does that mean when you’re paying back taxes, and you’re expected to contribute to the society, but you’re not receiving the benefits?”
But even getting onto the path for citizenship under the Senate bill under discussion could be impossible for people who have worked informally as day laborers or domestic workers, since the applicant is expected to show proof of having worked in the U.S.
“These are men who are working every day,” said Emiliano Bourgois-Chacon, with the San Francisco Day Labor Program and Women’s Collective. But because they are undocumented, they don’t have paperwork to prove they have been working, Bourgois-Chacon said.
Keeping the family together was another concern of May Day demonstrators.
The bill in the Senate would make it more difficult for families to sponsor siblings. “Family reunification has been a cornerstone of immigration in the U.S.,” Lee, of the Chinese Progressive Association, said. “And to start chipping away at that…is very problematic.”
Many people in the Chinese community wouldn’t otherwise have been able to come to the U.S., she added.
Deportations that rip families apart are of great concern to a number of demonstrators IPS interviewed. There have been some 800 deportations from San Francisco since 2009, with the introduction of Secure Communities or “S-Comm”, the program where local police share arrest information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to Estava of Causa Justa.
Across the Bay in Alameda County, the Oakland-Berkeley area, there have been 2,000 deportations since 2009.
“People are getting separated from their families every day,” Estava said. “We want a stop to that immediately. We are fighting to get local police to stop the collaboration between police and ICE, and we have that same demand on the national level with immigration reform.”
Deportation has also heavily impacted the Arab immigrant community, said Lara Kiswani of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center. “There’s obviously racial discrimination and systemic criminalization of Arabs and Muslims here in the United States, which leads oftentimes to deportation,” she said.
Like Estava, Kiswani said the high number of deportations comes from collaboration between local and federal law enforcement. “There should be an end to S-Comm so that there’s more accountability to local law enforcement and so that people aren’t unjustly targeted and deported for various misdemeanors,” she said.
Another problem with the current and proposed law is the E-verify program through which an employer can verify a person’s social security number. ICE can request an employer perform an E-verify audit.
Olga Miranda, president of Service Employees International Union Local 87, said a few years ago several hundred of her union janitors were targeted by an E-verify audit, fired, and “lost everything overnight”.
Esteva pointed to another problem with the proposed law: putting resources into enhanced law enforcement on the border.
ICE and the border patrol have the most law enforcement money in the country, Esteva said. “Instead of putting that money into border enforcement, we could see a lot more social services and resources for the community. We think that money would not be well invested in protecting the border.”
Nancy Mackowsky marched the two-mile route holding an American Federation of Teachers banner. She teaches English as a second language at San Francisco City College and said some of her students work from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., then come to her class in the evening four days a week.
“They have goals, they have dreams and they deserve to be able to fulfill them,” she said.